The second day was planned as a light one with a trek around the Batseri, a laid back hamlet with picteresque surroundings and a trip to Chitkul, the last village in the Indo-Tibetan border. We started at 9 o’ clock in the morning. The village is placed at the intersection of the mountain and the valley. Therefore, we had to slowly walk upwards towards the mountain from the valley.
On both sides of the street, I found beautiful Himachali houses. These houses, of which the plinth is made of stone, and the structure predominantly containing wood, have gabled roofs. You also get to see some cars that are parked on the side of the street and suddenly you realise that even at the remotest corners of India, technology and science have started to make inroads. The small shops that you find here also have Maggi, Lays and Brittania and you suddenly realise that our world has become a consumerist one and globalised one.
The Himachali traditional houses, predominantly made of wood, speaks volumes about the geography and environment of the place. Being a place that is very rich in Deodars, pines etc, wood is a very easily available material in these places. The gabled roof makes sure that during the winter, snow doesn’t stay on the roof, an adaptation much similar to what the cone tree has. Being from Kerala, where monsoon pours with a vengeance, I could easily relate to this.
We also found a temple that was being built with good wood work dedicated to Badri Narayan. The Vaishnavite and Saivite cultures seem to be equally predominant in these regions. I expected Shiva to have more followers in these regions, given the Himalayas is his abode. Almost every single big mountain is equated with the Shivalinga. Kinnaur is also famous for the Kinnaur-Kailash range. However, as a student of History, it did evoke quite some interest in me that Vishnu is as popular here as much as Shiva.
When we were going to a Himalayan hamlet, I had in my mind, the image of a people who were fair with rosy cheeks and tall and well built. However, I was only correct partially. The Kinnauri people are tanned because the sun is quite strong in these areas, even though the weather is temperate due to the mountains. They are well built and have very good stamina with even old people trekking up the mountain with much ease. Women are beautiful and very independent.
As I was walking up the street, I met a villager with whom I struck up a conversation. He was intrigued when I said I come from Kerala (which he had not heard of). I further explained that I was from South India. He remarked that I did not look South Indian. He asked me why I was there. As soon as I said I was there on an official trip and I was in the government, his conversation veered from casual to more of a grievance nature. He said that winters were difficult and they had many problems. Even though I was curious to know these things, I nevertheless did not want to give the poor man unnecessary hope. The probationary period is quite the most powerless period in your training where you don’t really have the power to do any good to anyone. I wished the guy all the best and continued walking.
All along the street I could see a small stream of water gushing down. This stream is melted glacial water and is used to water the fields downstream. At many points, I could see farmers clearing the stream of objects obstructing the flow of water. This region is primarily cultivated for Apple, ‘Mattar’, cherries, and different flowers. The flowers here are extremely beautiful. I was also glad that I could find a Senior High school in this part of the country. It reminded me of my home, Kerala, where even the remotest hamlet can boast of a school with decent facilities.
I was walking with my colleague Rahul, who had deliberately slowed down to help me, given my condition. We stopped to buy a bottle of water from a small kirana store. The shopkeeper was a friend of our hotel owner and he was a very friendly young man. Shortly, to our surprise, we found out that he was a Gold medallist in the annual marathon that was conducted here in these mountains. I felt respect towards him for this achievement which I considered no mean feat.
Even in these regions, I could see the impact of the campaigns conducted by the new NDA government. There were posters of Swacch Bharath and Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao campaigns strewn here and there. I found this reach of the government very fascinating.
One thing I have observed from my few months in Himachal is how warm and hospitable the people are. They go to great lengths to make you feel good. This is unlike some other places I have visited, and is true for almost all parts of Himachal. Pahadis are very proud and at the same time very welcoming.
We kept walking and further up the mountain saw a fairly wide stream that went to join Bespa river further down stream. The water was ice cold and the place so captivating that the entire group stopped here for about an hour, providing everyone with photo opportunities.
After clicking enough pictures and enjoying our time with the crystal clear water, we walked further up to reach the meadows. From here further up lay the glacier that was providing the water for the fields downstream. My leg was already swollen but I wanted to keep walking. But my course director, with the sternness of an elder sister, asked me to discontinue the walk. Given that by the time I reached the hotel room, my leg pained like anything, I believe she called it right.
In the afternoon, we would go to Chitkul, the last village in the Indo-Tibetan border which is accessible by motor vehicles.
Chitkul, the last village of India
Afternoon, we proceeded to Chitkul, which is located around 15 kilometres from Sangla. The road became even narrower and on the one side we had the Bespa river guiding us. In these regions, the border is guarded by the ITBP, and we encountered an ITBP checkpost, where the board said, “Chitkul Beet”. Here too we could find a cascading waterfall.
The Himalayas continued to rise majestically and we reached Chitkul around 4–5. The air was much colder here. Vehicles are only allowed to ply until Chitkul. A little forward from Chitkul lay the post of the army, after which lies a few hamlets which are accessible only on mules. They are not accessible via motorable roads. Around 80 kilometres from Chitkul lay Tibet. Apparently, the Indian side of the border in these regions are not developed as part of a deliberate strategy. The army thinks that a Chinese advance can be stopped in these areas only by not developing the roads in these regions. It is also true that to maintain the infrastructure on Indian side would be more costly than on the Chinese side.
While all my colleagues proceeded towards the valley, I decided to walk towards the cultivated fields that lay above along with my friend Rahul and our Senior DAG, Anindyo Sir. We met a few villagers and started talking with them and they informed us of a “Nati” that would take place next night and invited us to join them. The three of us decided to keep it a secret as it would be difficult to go there at night with a large batch. It might also end up disturbing the locals if a large batch shows up for such an event.
We reached back at the hotel at around 7. Some of my colleagues and I stayed till late night before going to sleep. The good thing about being with peers of your own calibre is that the conversations never gets boring. Our hot topics for the day was one of the OTs who left our service this year for a State level post, and the other was my own selection in UPSC exam this year and whether I should go or not. We decided to not test the length the night at around 2 and went to sleep. Somewhere in my dream a pahadi song kept playing.